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However, we cannot expect that all of the 500,000 Alpacas that will roam our paddocks in 2010 will be up to speed in producing consistent quality and quantity of fleece.

Consequently, the Alpaca herd suitable for viable fibre production by broad acre farmers would still be quite small. Females could be excluded from the broad acre farms, as they would still be very much in the breeding stage, but those born 2007 or later, i.e. less than 4 years of age, would number only 138,000 (75% of 184,000), and wethers in that age group would be around 131,000 (75% of 175,000). The remainder of the herd, i.e. about 297,000 would, apart from studmales, be intermediate and primitive quality, depending on age and breeding. Some of these could well be suitable for supplementing the supply of animals and fleece.

Broad acre farmers, concentrating on building herds with wethers rather than breeding stock, would have, at best, about 200,000 wethers of suitable quality. Assuming initial average herds at 1,000, there would be about 200 broad acre farmers.

By 2015
The generations, born after 2010 would, at face value, add 507,000 to the broad acre herds (on the basis the 75% of these animals will appropriate quality). In reality, these younger wethers may well almost completely replace the preceding generations whose quality, at ten years of age, may no longer be sufficient. Our 'useable' numbers will depend on our ability to breed quality animals.

This does not mean, that the females held by breeders, and the wethers 'left behind', cannot contribute fibre to the industry - as they do at present. But for the most lucrative market gains, specialist fibre producing farmers need the best animals available.

By 2020
The additional number of wethers (75% of total born in 2015 to 2020) would be 1,300,000, producing at least 5.5kg per animal. Assuming each was producing at least 5.5 kg, our total yearly production would be 7,200 tons of top quality Alpaca, plus, say, 280 tons from the older wethers from the previous generations. (The present total global production of Alpaca fibre, ranging from excellent to dubious quality, is approximately 8,000 tons.)

In other words, commercial feasibility would have been well and truly reached.

But, this progression will not occur as I have outlined, unless it is planned and coordinated on an industry-wide basis - now.

Australia's advanced breeding program must concentrate on quality. Attempting to breed out colour would be a major setback in our efforts. I am not saying that white is not needed, it is a very important colour. White animals can also be used to up quality in other colours, especially in blacks and greys.

The argument for white is driven by spinners and fashion retailers wanting dyed colours and is a reaction in our ranks rather than a vision. My view is that what sells (in the retail world) are Brand names. Our task is to create just that. Combine top quality fibre with top products and make the brand of Alpaca made in Australia as the most prestigious in the world, just as Strategy 2025 is doing for the wine industry.

We are ahead now. We can forge even further forward if we do it together.

White or Colour?
There have been suggestions that we should concentrate on breeding white in preference to colours.
This move would place us in the same position (to use a money market term) as Peru. In spite of their efforts to breed out colour for decades, white still represents only 39% of the Peruvian herd, while 45% is of multi or mixed coloured Alpacas.

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After importing large numbers of white and fawn Alpacas from Peru, our Australian herd contains only about 22% white, and relatively few multis (12%). If imports are kept low, the advanced Alpaca production herd of 2020 would probably still have only 25% white. This means that in the herd of 2020, advanced quality wethers (see above) with white fleece would represent about 325,000, producing 1,800 tons of fibre. That is far less than the annual production of the present world market share held by Peru, which means we will never be able to compete against Peru's quantities, albeit with much higher quality.

My view in this matter is not just to follow the world wide trend for "natural", but to lead it. We should build our coloured herd to a level where no one can compete in either quantity and quality.

The World
Where will the world's Alpaca industry be during the period of development in Australia over the periods discussed above?

We can - and should - exert influence on global development as well.

Ultimately the world's Alpaca industry will remain a niche market, considering that by 2020 there will probably be no more than 16,000,000 Alpacas. Compared with a likely 1,100,000,000 sheep of which 450,000,000 will be wool producers, the Alpaca niche will still be a small one.

Nevertheless, marketing is perception management. What will be important is for Alpaca to be seen as a top product, and every producer in the world the maker of a top product. This way the price for Alpaca will not as easily be diluted with products of poor quality.

Still, it will be impossible to avoid price cutting by someone providing poorer quality in order to cash in on the growing reputation of the top quality product.

That is why we in Australia should lead by:

  • breeding top quality Alpacas;
  • producing the best fibre in the world;
  • producing the best Alpaca products; and
  • securing this quality by establishing the brand for such quality world wide.
This brand can be registered world wide, be licenced only to those who can produce the quality attached to the brand, and allow them to join a world wide alliance established for furthering the quality of Alpacas and Alpaca products.

That will allow us to help other countries to breed up the quality of their Alpacas - and to participate in the industry - while the quality of Alpacas improves world wide and, with it, the reputation of the animals and their products.

This way we can create an export market not only for our animals and products, but quality itself, and still remain at the leading edge of the industry.

An industry plan must put Australia at the centre of the Alpaca world.

This plan needs to inspire both breeders and fibre industry to provide the genuine enthusiasm and commitment necessary to progress the plan.

The plan needs a leader and a champion who will unite disparate points of view and motivate industry leaders to focus on one target.

There may be many pathways to reach that target, and all should be explored, but in the end we need to walk one path together.

I think a 20 year industry plan makes good sense. Why don't we call it "2020 Vision" - and start planning?